As the battle against COVID-19 continues to expand globally, Thailand is also facing the situation head-on, working continuously to slow down the infection rate in the country, the Department of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, said in a statement.
Despite the daunting challenges, Thailand has had experience in handling previous epidemic situations from Avian Flu to SARS and MERS-CoV, working closely with WHO and countries in the region. WHO has recognized that Thailand’s public health system is highly responsive as the Johns Hopkins University’s 2019 Global Health Security Index places Thailand as the 6th most prepared country in the world for an epidemic.
When China confirmed last December of numerous pneumonia cases of unknown causes in Wuhan City, Thailand was already on alert. The Thai Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) immediately set up a surveillance protocol early January, and activated the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). Thailand was the first country to detect a COVID-19 case outside China, an imported case from Wuhan.
Consequently, a medical team at the Thai Red Cross Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Centre, Chulalongkorn University was able to detect and initially identify the virus as an unknown coronavirus. They kept it isolated, and as soon as China shared the COVID-19 genome, they confirmed a match and disclosed this information right away. All of these events happened within the first two weeks of 2020.
Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute (BIDI) of the Department for Disease Control, who specializes in epidemiology, was tasked to spearhead patient treatment and conduct research on COVID-19. Treatment of patients has been effective so far, with a high recovery rate.
In February, the team of physicians at Rajavithi Hospital took an assertive approach in COVID-19 treatment. The combination of anti-influenza (Oseltamivir) and anti-HIV medications (Lopinavir and Rotonavir), successfully treated severe COVID-19 cases within 48 hours. Despite being an on-trial basis, treatment has helped pave the way for future research on antiviral medication to treat patients.
Thailand can complete diagnostic laboratory examinations for suspected cases within 24 hours. Testing is now available across the country, and authorities are equipping more and more medical facilities with the capacity to conduct diagnostic testing as well as patient treatment.
In terms of raising public awareness and risk communication, MOPH has kept the public, WHO, ASEAN and other partner countries informed early on. The public can access information on new measures and situation reports through daily press briefings. A dedicated MOPH website, Facebook and Twitter accounts disseminate information simultaneously. A telephone hotline is also available for inquiries.
Such efforts have enabled Thailand to gradually move down the list of countries with the highest numbers of infected persons outside China. The country is working relentlessly to ensure that all cases can be accounted for, despite the increasing number of infected persons.
MOPH has also continued to vigorously conduct a contact tracing system on suspected individuals and their close contacts. This has enabled authorities to identify COVID-19 carriers before symptoms appear and prevent them from unknowingly spreading the virus.
Screening was later upgraded in popular tourist destinations such as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Krabi and Phuket, and on people in close contact with travelers from outbreak areas. Following this screening system, Patients under Investigation (PUI) cases increased significantly. Thailand is indeed leaving no carpets unturned.
Thailand also introduced AI tools via mobile applications to enhance efficiency of COVID-19 surveillance and to create a comprehensive database for risk assessment.
As the situation continues, Thais need to be prepared to carry on life in the epidemic phase. Thai authority has declared the COVID-19 a dangerous communicable disease to enable health officials with legal authority to step up precautionary measures and enforce tougher rules where necessary. Thailand will continue to maintain open communication with the public in full confidence and transparency. Through close cooperation with WHO and partners in the region, vigilance and preparedness, we are confident that Thailand and the world will overcome this global pandemic together.